The use of solar chargers on extended expeditions is not a new concept. In fact, they’ve been used on Everest and other big mountains for years, helping to keep communications equipment charged and, more recently, powering laptops, cell phones, and mp3 players charged. For most of us however, using a solar charger on our journeys generally hasn’t been an option. The systems are still a bit bulky and expensive for general use and generally remain a luxury for those looking to travel light.
That’s where the Restore solar charger from Brunton comes in handy. Weighing in at just 8.6 ounces, the Restore features a rugged, clamshell design that incorporates two solar panels and an included charging cable. The result is a solar charger for the rest of us – with a few caveats.
The Restore has a built in Lithium Polymer battery that can be charged via sunlight of course, but also using an included DC car adapter or a USB port on a computer. Brunton also has an AC wall adapter available for an additional fee, although I found in my testing that if you plan ahead, it isn’t all that necessary. It takes about an hour and a half to fully charge the battery using USB or DC power and considerably longer through the solar panels. Depending on exposure to the sun, it took my test unit approximately 8-10 hours to charge on a sunny day, and with cloud cover it can take even longer than yet.
Once the battery is charged however, it stores that power until you’re ready to recharge one of your devices. I had no problems using the Restore to juice up my iPod, iPhone, and GPS device. Simply plugging them into one of the unit’s built-in USB ports (standard and micro) started the process, and in no time at all, you’ll have a fully powered device again. Time to recharge is about the same as plugging the device into your computer and the 2200 mAh battery was good for 3-4 recharges on my iPod Nano and about 2-3 on my iPhone. It should be noted that the Restore can recharge an iPad as well, it is just so slow at doing so, that it hardly seems useful. That means you can forget about charging anything more powerful, such as laptop.
Brunton did a great job of making the Restore very easy to use. When you plug it in to charge, blue LED’s light up to indicate progress. When all four are lit, the device is charged and ready for travel. Hitting the power button without anything plugged into the Restore gives you a quick indication of how much power is still in the battery, and when you plug in your gadgets to charge them up, a tap of the power button begins that process as well. Charing automatically stops once your iPod or cell phone is topped off.
Other nice touches include having the charging cable conveniently integrated into the design and a rubber, ruggedized case that truly feels like it can take a beating. That same casing is sealed tightly, helping to make the device water resistant as well. Brunton also designed the Restore to have small handles on both ends of the case, which can be used to fasten the device to the outside of your backpack. This allows the twin solar panels to gather power all day long, even as you hike, so the Restore is ready to use once you reach camp in the evening.
Overall, I’m impressed with the Brunton Restore. It is a lightweight and useful option for recharging devices while on the go. I do wish that it would charge a bit more quickly and efficiently on its solar panels, but considering how small those panels are, its a wonder that it charges as quickly as it does. If you’re looking for options to recharge your electronic devices while you’re in the backcountry, the Restore is a great option, as long as you’re aware of its limitations ahead of time.